Southern Albatrosses In North American Waters

by Steven G. Mlodinow

Albatrosses seize the imagination. They signify mystery and mobility, wide-open spaces and unknown territory. They inspire introspection on one hand and wanderlust on the other. So strange and fantastic was the albatross’s apparition to early European mariners that they believed these birds’ bodies harboured the souls of dead sailors. To kill one was to be cursed. Modern day birders aren’t quite as awed by the sight of an albatross, but the appearance of a vagrant albatross does create a reaction that is far from calm.

Eight species of albatrosses have occurred in North American waters, five of which are considered vagrants (American Ornithologists Union [AOU] 1998): Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos, Shy Albatross T.cauta, Black-browed Albatross T.melanophris, Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata, and Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans. Each of these species has made it to North American waters from the Antarctic or other regions far south of the equator.